Whobegotyou's rise to Derby prominence
On a cold night in May a group of 70 members and guests gathered for one of the Geelong Thoroughbred Club’s regular dinners where Mark Kavanagh was the guest speaker.
Kavanagh was in high demand for such events after he became the face of racing the previous spring with four Group One wins courtesy of Maldivian, Divine Madonna and Devil Moon.
Such success does not come easily and Kavanagh didn’t take it for granted, so when asked to attend functions whether they be media conferences or other speaking engagements he always tried to oblige.
As he put it, "You never know when it will end".
On this night at Geelong, Kavanagh told his story, how he had started as a moderate jumps jockey, became a trainer who resurrected the careers of mostly broken-down horses at Mount Gambier, moved to Adelaide and took his career to another level when opening his Flemington stables last year.
As the dinner was coming to a close Kavanagh was asked about any future stable stars and after some prompting he tipped an unlikely-named horse, Whobegotyou, would win his first start over 1100 metres at Geelong in two days time.
As the field came around the home turn on the synthetic ThoroughTrack it appeared the worst tip of all time.
Even Kavanagh had his doubts Whobegotyou could win from where he was but when Michael Rodd pulled him to the outside he came from six lengths off the lead at the 200 metres to win running away by 1-3/4 lengths.
"It wasn’t the plan to ride him like that but he showed that he was pretty smart to do what he did," Kavanagh said.
Kavanagh always liked Whobegotyou as a possible spring horse but he could not have predicted that he would be the odds-on favourite for Saturday’s Victoria Derby.
"When I went to the Geelong Thoroughbred Club a few months ago and tipped him I was going to nominate him for this and do that with him, but I don’t know whether I really thought he would end up in the Derby," Kavanagh said.
"I didn’t say to myself `I think there is a potential Derby horse in the first race at Geelong’.
"Really, I am pinching myself a little bit that he is in it."
Kavanagh bought Whobegotyou after he was passed in for $17,500 as a yearling with a $25,000 reserve at Sydney’s Inglis Classic Sale.
A son of Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, he was a speculative buy with a relatively bland pedigree on his dam’s side.
Only his mother Temple Of Peace, a winner of three races from 2000 to 2900m, provided any significant black type on the page, being stakes-placed in France.
Whobegotyou was her third foal and he underlines the glorious uncertainty of racing.
After his Geelong success, Whobegotyou won his next start at Moonee Valley in June. After a short break he returned in August for an unlucky second to Sugar Babe in the Listed McNeil Stakes and even more luckless seventh in the Caulfield Guineas Prelude.
He goes into the Victoria Derby on the back of three dominant come-from-behind Group wins, in the Bill Stutt Stakes (1600m), Caulfield Guineas (1600m) and AAMI Vase (2040m).
Helenus is the only other horse to have won all three races and predictably he was odds-on when he won the 2002 Victoria Derby.
Last week Kavanagh celebrated three Group wins on Cox Plate Day, including the feature with Maldivian, but despite his red-hot form he is afraid of declaring Whobegotyou a certainty in the Derby.
"Anticipation is wonderful but there can easily be disappointment," Kavanagh said.
"I am trying to be a bit careful because the last one I had they said was over the line, well, he wasn’t."
Clearly Maldivian’s dramatic scratching from the 2007 Caulfield Cup after slashing his neck in the barrier is still haunting.
That and the fact that the Derby has provided its share of major upsets is sobering, none greater than when Caulfield Cup winner Sobar ($1.35) finished second to Dayana in 1972.
In 1979 Big Print upstaged Kingston Town and Caulfield Cup winner Mighty Kingdom.
"Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t be having my $10 on him (Whobegotyou) at $1.50," Kavanagh said. "But I wouldn’t be swapping him for any other runner either.
"I’m aware of a lot of things such as it is his first start at the distance and Derbys can often be pretty open and there can be an upset.
"Fire Oak was a maiden when he won it in 1990 and, who knows, maybe one of the maidens is looking for the distance on Saturday.
"Rain is forecast. Anything can happen. He is a long way off being over the line."
As for the Geelong Thoroughbred Club, they have enjoyed the ride as much as anyone and no-one will be cheering louder than them for the horse with the funny name.
By Robert Windmill